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Mac Bledsoe's Parenting With Dignity program.
A Familiar Sound . . .
America Needs the Sound of Our Children Among Us
By Mac Bledsoe
One of the real dangers of traveling around the country conducting
conferences on parenting issues and writing articles like this one about
parenting is that a person can begin thinking that he really is an expert.
However, every once in a while something happens to bring us back to earth
and demonstrates that we has barely scratched the surface of
knowledge about parenting. Just such an event happened when we were invited
to visit the Yakima Indian Reservation to conduct a series of parenting
classes using our "Parenting with Dignity" program.
I was going to do the first session on my own without Barbara, and I
showed up about an hour ahead of time at the Yakima's beautiful Tribal
Headquarters outside of Toppenish, Washington. I was shown into the
impressive big auditorium where the classes were to take place. Taking
advantage of their great facility, I brought all of my materials into the
room, set them up and started looking over my notes in preparation for my
presentation. Then the tribal members began to show up and fill the
auditorium. They brought all of their kids. The mothers with babies sat in
the front row and spread their blankets out for their babies to play
exactly where I was planning to stand. The older kids started doing
homework in their seats, playing in the aisles, and riding skateboards in
the foyer outside the room. Man, was I annoyed. After fifteen minutes of
all of that action by all of those kids, I suddenly realized I was hearing
a very familiar sound. This was a sound I was used to hearing as a normal
and regular part of my early life.
While growing up, I had heard this very same sound on a frequent basis. A
little way up the road from our ranch where I grew up was the local Grange
Hall called Fairview Hall. The familiar sound I was hearing was the sound
of kids and adults together! At least once every month and ofter more, our
family went to Fairview Hall, the old Grange Hall, for some neighborhood
event. Sometimes it was a wedding, sometimes a funeral. At other times it
was the Christmas party, the Easter party, the Halloween party, or the
Thanksgiving party. And then there were the Farm Bureau Meetings and the
annual "Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed", the occasional Saturday night dances,
or some other equally important event.
When we were at Fairview Hall, entire families attended. Man was it ever
exciting for all of us kids! At a wedding everyone dressed up and used
happy but formal behavior until the reception when things became pretty
festive. At a funeral everyone wore nearly the same clothes but their
behavior was much more reverent and serious. At the Christmas,
Thanksgiving and Easter parties, families were in a festive mood at the
start but there was also a very solemn religious part to each of those
celebrations. Then there were dances, receptions, and special meals. Kids
were ever present and always part of every event.
In the process of watching the adults while attending these varied events,
I was learning appropriate behavior for all kinds of events and occasions.
I was learning to adjust my behavior for differing situations by watching
my parents and other adults do so. Now, standing in front of an audience
on the Yakima Indian Reservation, I was seeing and hearing the same very
wise thing taking place! The elders of the tribe were teaching their
children how to act in an appropriate manner by modeling that behavior and
then by letting the kids practice it.
How can we adults expect kids to know how to act at a funeral or a wedding
if they have never been to one? All too often in modern America we view a
baby crying at a wedding as an annoyance or a glitch on the video-tape of
the event. We must stop that and allow our kids to be with us. while they
are with us we will teach them by modeling for them the appropriate
About a week after the gathering with the Yakima Indians, I was sitting on
an airplane in Seattle, as the plane was loading for a flight to Boston. A
young woman came up the aisle carrying a very young baby and baby bag. She
also had a three year old daughter in front of her and a five year old son
following her. Just as she passed our seats the little three-year-old
became frightened and began to cry while attempting to turn back up the
aisle. This woke the baby, and it began to cry. Next, the five-year-old
began shouting at his sister and there was quite a commotion right there
in the aisle next to us. The fellow sitting next to me rolled his eyes
(assuming that I shared his feelings) and said, "Well, it looks like it's
going to be another one of those trips!"
In response, I said, "Now there's an idea that will rule your world if you
choose to let it, sir. But, I have another idea that could live in your
head if you choose to let it. Those kids with that woman... they belong on
this airplane. Their mother is here! Our nation cannot afford another
generation of young people growing up being viewed by us, the adults, as
if they are an annoyance. We brought them into the world, we must teach
them how to act by allowing them to be with us."
We, as a nation of parents, must recapture the sound of our children among
us at church, weddings, funerals, celebrations, in public places, and at
meetings. We must give them guidance on how to act. Then we must let them
join us as we model appropriate behavior for them. What I am proposing
becomes pretty heavy stuff because it requires all of us adults to behave
America must recapture the sound of our children among us. We must let
them learn by watching us!
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